Active Living Challenge: Small Successes

Okay… just because I haven’t been talking about physical activity lately doesn’t mean I haven’t been doing it… or at least trying.  For someone who has never lived a particularly physically active life, I have to admit this has been a real challenge.  However, it is one I am very glad I have undertaken.

The project has two levels.  First, getting myself physically active.  I’m not forcing myself to do the insanity video every day or anything but I am requiring at least some level of physical activity every day.  I haven’t been successful everyday but I have been out and active far more than my usual (with the possible exception of yesterday… I just couldn’t convince myself to get out in that freezing cold wind).

Second, I am trying to raise a more physically active family.  Childhood obesity rates in this country are far beyond acceptable, not that my two tiny boys are at risk of obesity any time soon, but instilling inactive habits now will produce an adult like me… too wimpy to risk a walk in a little wind.

We have had some successes.  For a month now we have been taking the boys swimming every Saturday afternoon.  The kids are getting active, having a ball and getting far more comfortable in the water.  Mommy and Daddy have also been getting active, having a great time watching the boys discover a new experience.  If we could only talk The Girl into coming with us, it would be the perfect family activity.

I’m slowly getting immune to impatience of the walks around the block.  The boys are still having a great time and I am making it three quarters of the way around the block before silently seething with frustration.  Maybe by summer we’ll be able to make it to the park and back!

Today a colleague and I needed to meet and talk over some issues, instead of talking on the phone we went for a walk.  We got our work done and felt better when we were done.  It was a small decision but a good one.

The biggest hurdle so far has been momentum.  It is so easy to prioritize all the other things we need to do, if I even back off for a day it’s that much harder to make us get out again. All of the multitude of things that require my attention and mental energy in a day relegate physical activity to just one more thing on the to-do list and I really don’t like looking at it that way.  I want physical activity to be a release; to energize me rather than exhaust me.

I’m just not sure how to get myself there.

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You can never go home…

I left my parents home for the last time this week. 

Saying goodbye seemed impossible.  I found myself literally rooted to the spot in my mother’s favorite chair, unable to make myself leave.

It is not the house where I grew up, but it is the house that my parents made their own.  The family cat is buried in the pond that my father had always wanted and finally built.  It houses countless number of fish with which he kept stocking the pond, and whom repeatedly disappeared to the bottom, never to be seen again.  That house is home to the garden my mother cherished but rarely tended.  Having earned her rest, she left the heavy lifting to an employee turned dear friend and curtailed her activity to her regular walks admiring the fruits of the labour.

The house was stripped bear of all the significant items; the rest waiting for an auctioneer to clear.  Still, the departure of ‘things’ did nothing to dull the memories… and the pain of knowing my children would never crawl on Nana’s lap for a story or eat at her table again.

It took tears and a willpower I didn’t know I possessed to get myself out of that house for the final time.  I found myself delaying and taking strange items, simply because I couldn’t let them go.  I took my grandfather’s screwdriver and my dad’s tape measure.  I even tool a doily (I hate doilies!) from the table by the door becuase I couldn’t bear to let it go to a stranger.

I walked through the garden and said goodbye to the cats buried there and frogs that will never again lull me to sleep.  I took one last memoment of revenge by cutting the silly string deliniating my mother’s property from her new neighbour, who choose to fill her last months with worry by letters and surveys to mark his property rights.  Cutting the string was a petty act, but one that took me from my grief for an important moment.

I drove away with only a glance in my rearview mirror.  Now two days later it seems I have to physically restrain myself from driving the two and half hours back just to see it one more time.

Now home and unpacked, my mother’s things seem so out of place in my house.  I just want to take them home and put them back where they belong.  Unfortuatnely both they, and me, don’t seem to belong anywhere anymore.

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The Prom Dress…

Physical activity and grief don’t mix.

I have been good.  I’ve been to the gym.  I’ve been to Zumba.  I’ve walked so much I discovered I desperately need new running shoes.  Hell, I even took my kids on a neighbourhood clean up!

Today, however, with the lawyers and the bankers and the auctioneers set to sell off a lifetime of my mother’s belongings, the bath and the wine seemed more attractive.  I think God will forgive me.

Grief is all consuming.  I thought I had weathered a big part of it… I’ve certainly complained on this blog enough.  A tantrum today over my mother’s junior prom dress, which six months from now I will wonder why I ever wanted it, proved otherwise. 

My sister and I have dealt with the bulk of the house.  All that remains is my mother’s hope chest, but it contains the biggest landmines.  It holds the mysteries of things she kept but never told us why.  It holds the family histories: the photos, the documents, the letters and the general flotsam of which we will never know the significance.  It holds the damn prom dress.

I don’t even understand my attachment.  There are two dresses.  The prom dress, a green that, while a currently unfashionable shade, is one that suits my colouring and my mother’s, and her wedding dress.  That dress is one that I have always regretted not wearing myself and one that I changed the dress I did buy to emulate.  My sister has already agreed to give me the wedding gown.  Why then is the stupid prom dress so important?

I don’t have daughters that will want these things.  The Girl is very unlikely to want them and, realistically, neither am I.  The prom dress was worn by a woman I didn’t know with a gawky date long lost to history.  The wedding dress was the start of the life that produced me.  Why then am I even considering offering up the wedding gown in exchange?

Grief is irrational.  I am irrational.  Why do I want the stupid dress?

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Active Living: Choices…

It’s all about choices.

Unfortunately, it’s too easy to make the wrong choice, especially when momentum is involved.  Raising three kids is tiring… especially with a teenager in the mix.  Forcing myself, or all of us, out of the house can be a tough sell.

That said, the last number of days have been a good reminder that forcing myself to make the right choice can have positive results. 

This weekend we took the boys to the pool.  It was the second time we’ve done it in the last few weeks and something we hadn’t done in a very long time.  It’s a pain getting them all to the pool and dressed and showered and such, but all four of us had a fantastic time.  The boys confidence in the water grew sharply, a good preparation for the spring swimming lessons, we all got some exercise and we had fun.  I also learned one of the great benefits of having had only boys… they go into the dressing room with Daddy while I have time to relax in the sauna.  I particularly liked that discovery!

Monday, I spent the day at a conference.  I had planned to go for a walk at lunch to get in my quota of activity but a lunch time speaker axed that plan.  Later I found myself, having sat on my ass all day, arriving 10 minutes early for a planned dinner with friends.  I was so tired I just wanted to go home.  Instead I chose to use the time going for a quick power walk.  It was pretty cold and windy but just ten minutes of activity boosted my flagging spirits and my energy and I ended up having a nice dinner.

That brings us to yesterday… Big Dude was booked for a morning activity at the library and Little Dude and I had some time to kill.  He wanted to return home for some quality TV time but, instead, I bundled us both up and we went for a walk through the trails at the local duck pond.  The forest was alive with the sounds of cracking ice and we had a ball balancing on logs, skating through the icy parts and stomping on the early spring ice.  We chose to have some fun together even though it would have been easier to acquiesce to the whining and return home for that second cup of coffee.

Of course… the next challenge is to keep making those good choices.  The boys will get outside and active at child care today but with a rare full kid-free day ahead of me, I can’t afford not to spend the time working.  How will I make my choice to get active today?  I don’t know.  I just know I need to do it.

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Careful What You Wish For….

So Big Dude got off the bus yesterdayay and immediately asked to go for a walk.  Little Dude then asked to go again after dinner.

It is like herding cats!

At the same time… I can’t say no.  I took them for the walk and held my patience. I didn’t threaten to take away the various sticks and ‘brooms’ (evergreen branches they used to ‘sweep’ away their dirt drawings) until we had nearly reached home.  They were getting active and they were having fun.  I enjoyed myself for a little longer this time and held my patience a little longer. 

I stuck Daddy with the evening walk.

These walks are not my favorite sport but I grin and bear it.  They are getting kids out and they are proving fun can be had outside without the aid of computers or any other type of screen and I am feeling better and sticking to my Lenten promise.

Today my activities are a bit more limited in scope but no less important in terms of lifestyle changes. 

Friday mornings are a regular date for Little Dude and I at the local playroom.  It is located at one end of a rather long mall.  I parked at the other end, conveniently near the best coffee shop in town (a little motivation never hurt anyone!) and we walked to the playroom.  Little Dude and his little girlfriend, our guest for the day, had a ball and we all got and extra five minutes walking, each way.  We then decided to go out for lunch and walked the short distance to the restaurant as well.  This afternoon, as long as the downpour holds off, we will walk her home.

They are small steps but add up to large distances.

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Learning to walk again…

That didn’t go so well.

I did what I promised… my Lenten project of getting the family more active got underway with a walk.  Little Dude and I met Big Dude at the bus with the plan of going for a walk.

The Girl was my first failure of the day.  While insisting she wanted to come for a walk with us, she didn’t want to leave until the TV show she was watching got to a commercial… it was recorded on the DVR and could have been stopped at any time.  As I had to meet the bus, I had to leave without her.

I was next greeted with… (and please imagine the whiniest voices possible here)…

“I want to go home!”

“I don’t want to go for a walk.”

I got them moving with a promise that the first one to get back home got to play on the computer first (think I’m defeating the whole purpose here??!).

As I knew they would, the Dudes started having fun right away.  The snow has started melting and leaving all kinds of half rotted ‘treasure’ for the boys to find.  Bog Dude quickly declared himself chief ‘leaf looker’ and began collecting every slimy fallen leaf he could find, the muddier the better.  They then discovered some sticks and began mapping our progress with arrows drawn in the dirt.  A pirate’s treasure map of course.

We all had fun for about 10 minutes and then I remembered one very important fact… I do no like taking my children for a walk.

I feel terrible even writing that, but it is true.  I love my children and I love many things about being a mother.  I love reading and doing crafts with them.  I’ll build lego and train tracks and have fun doing it.  There are, however, some aspects of childhood I find better left behind.  I don’t play dolls or cars well, and I don’t like walking without purpose or destination.

It is something I forget every winter.  When the snow melts, I long to get outside.  Then I take the kids out and I remember.  One kids runs ahead while the other lags behind.  One climbs down into a muddy ditch while the other wanders out constantly onto the road.  I do well finding creative ways to play with them and with reigning them in for about 10 minutes, then my patience snaps and I just want them to slow down… or speed up… whatever the case my be.

It hampers things for my Lenten project a bit.  I’m still not willing to let us all sit inside but I may have to change my strategy… just going to a walk is not my solution.  I went to the gym this morning but that doesn’t help the Dudes… or the Girl, who I suspect will be the most difficult part of this project.

Big Dude does not have gym class today so he definitely needs to get moving (I was disappointed to learn that he only has gym class once a week… shouldn’t that be every day?!).  I’ll have to come up with something… perhaps playing in the yard.  I just hope I won’t have to resort to another walk!

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A New Lenten Project

I’ve been feeling a little lost lately.  The season of Lent has been fast approaching… in fact, today brings Ash Wednesday, the formal beginning of this time of reflection.  Perhaps I have been reflecting too much.

Last year I gave up Cancer for Lent.  An ambitious and nearly impossible goal, I know, but it was a reaction to the rampant nature of this disease in my family and in our society. I examined my family’s diet, our exercise patterns, our physical environment and I raised more than a thousand dollars for the fight to prevent cancer. 

Despite those successes, in the year since that decision many days feel like cancer won out.  Since I gave up cancer, I have watched the disease take myself and my sister away from our families to care for an increasingly ill mother.  I have watched the strain wear down our husbands.  I have watched the resulting grief and confusion on the faces of our children.  Most of all, I watched cancer take away the very essence of my mother leaving first a breathing shell and then, ultimately, an empty one now waiting to be put in the ground.

It is easy to view cancer as the victor.

At the same time, when I pull myself out of this seemingly permanent funk, I know I have made progress.  My Lenten cancer experiment may not have halted my mother’s disease but it did create positive change for my family.  We now eat vegetarian at least once a week.  We significantly limit our red meat intake.  We have very few household chemicals, choosing natural products, or at least those deemed environmentally friendly instead.  We may not have moved mountains but we are living healthier lives with fewer known carcinogens. 

Where I have fallen down is in the area of physical activity.  The past year has left me exhausted and the idea of encouraging active living for the family, let alone for myself, has been too much.  We have been living a sedentary life.  The Husband has still been going to the gym but he does it before he even comes home from work so the kids don’t see the example he sets.

This brings me to this year’s Lenten project… encouraging active living in my family.  It was the part of the project last year that was most difficult and the one that didn’t stick.  I watch my neighbour who runs constantly and who has her daughter outside running around rain or shine and it just  makes me tired.  I think that’s sad.  I don’t want my children to view physical activity as a chore… the way I have come to do.  I want it to be a natural part of their lives, like eating and sleeping.  The American cancer society says 15 to 20% of all cancers can be attributed to obesity.  Now my kids are not obese (Big Dude is far from it, I can’t find pants with a small enough waist) but that doesn’t change the mental and physical benefits of active living.

So, today we begin.  Big Dude will be met at the bus and we’ll continue on for a walk.  It’s a small start but one I hope will stick.  The snow is starting to melt and spring is ever closer… perhaps that will help.  I am open to any suggestions.  How do you incorporate activity into your kids lives?  Into your life?

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Fighting, literally, through grief.

Wow.  I just had a big fight with my sister… the biggest one we’ve had since we were kids.  Apparently our grief involves yelling at each other.

We had a rollicking fight that ranged from guilt to repressed anger to unfounded assumptions.  We then ended the argument by laughing and crying at the same time realizing the whole fight had been fueled by repressed grief and both felt like a huge weight had been lifted.

I didn’t know I needed to irrationally yell at those I love to work through my grief.

That’s what is surprising me most as I work through this.  The ways that grief just comes out of nowhere and smacks me in the face.  I work through my day on a relatively even keel and all of a sudden a wave of sadness takes over.  Sometimes there is good cause, like the day I was sorting some odd papers and found my mother’s bucket list (of which, I was sad to note, not one item had been completed) or sometimes it comes along with no specific motivator.

The result is the same.  I can feel my shoulders sag and my spirits sink.  I feel sad and lonely. 

I also feel self-indulgent.  Tomorrow my mother will have been dead for one month.  It feels like I need to stop living in myself and get on with life.  Everyone looses a mother at some point, it is how the world is supposed to work.  Then why can’t I seem to get out of this self-indulgent grief?

I don’t know… maybe I just need to yell at someone again.  Any takers?

Posted in cancer, death, grief, mom | 3 Comments

Working through it… or just distracting myself.

Wow… back on the job this week.  I feel like my brain has atrophied.

It’s all I can do to get a bit of work done, get the kids in bed and fall into bed myself.  Yet I still can’t sleep.

I stare at the TV.  I play mindless games on my iPod.  I distract myself but do nothing productive.  I can’t seem to pull myself out of it.  My book, which I would normally be finished reading in a few days, seems to drag on forever.  It seems like too much work.  I am fascinated by this need for completely brainless activity.

I watched a TV show today about a man who started dressing as a clown after his wife died to distract himself from the grief.  I’m not sure I’m ready to strap on a foam nose but I do feel the need to take myself away from…well, myself.

All the grief literature says mindless activity is normal, even healthy, if done in moderation.  As many people have said, time is necessary to get through this grief.  Yet, time does not heal all wounds. The literature also says people have to work through their grief.  But, how do you do that?

I’d rather just watch a flickering screen.

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Time… grief… and being orphaned.

My mother died three weeks ago today.

As I reflected upon that number today I came to the conclusion that time has no meaning within grief.  It feels like I have aged at least a decade in those short weeks yet I can still feel her cold hand under mine and the image of her lifeless form feels so fresh I could touch it.  It’s an image I fear will never slack its hold on my memory.

The grief, so far, has been intense… and it has been soft.  It has numbed my mind… and it has caused physical pain.  Yet somehow, even with all the pain and sorrow, it seems I am not doing justice to my mother.

When my father died I mourned him.  Now that my mother is gone, it is not her I mourn, but the both of them.  The loss of my mother has heralded the loss of the life I have known until now.  The family that nurtured me.  The life that formed me.  It no longer exists anywhere but my memory.  It feels like my safety net is gone.

I am an orphan.

It’s a statement that seems to just stop time for me.  I typed it and then had no more words.  I read the post again and again and could seem to go no further.  I checked Facebook.  I avoided the word.  I came back to it and stared blankly for a little longer.  Orphan.  It seems so final.

It is final.  It is an end… and end to the family I have known and a forcible shove into the future.  There is no running home… because that home is mostly empty and waiting for new owners.  That home is gone.

The loss of my mother is so much more than just the woman.  I think, perhaps, mourning her will have to wait until I have mourned the family that came with her.

I am encircled with love… from good friends (who supply me with fabulous meals and great coffee) to cuddly boys and a wonderfully supportive husband yet the overwhelming feeling of the past few weeks has been loneliness. 

I keep coming back to that word… orphan.  It seems to steal all other words from me.  Even as I start to emerge from the intense grief of this past week, the words seems to send me spiralling back.

At times I shake myself and think, ‘it’s been three weeks, it’s time to start shaking this off,’ at others I think ‘orphan’ and it seems nothing can drag me out of this funk.

Three weeks.  A lifetime.  Three weeks.  An instant.

I don’t know which.

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